The Weight of the Cross

I hate Sydney. I’m up here touring a lesbian show for Mardi Gras, and I’m trying desperately to make peace with the city that stole whatever innocence I had left. This city with its cockroaches, rude drivers, homelessness and drunken backpackers. I’m here at a time when I should be celebrating my gayness, where the rainbow flag waves with pride in the humid breeze, where my wife and I can hold hands with confidence in the busy Newtown streets. But all I’m doing is trying not to be broken.

I lived here for a very short time more than ten years ago. I lived here to attempt to move on from my failed relationship with my ex girlfriend. To be more accurate, I lived in the Cross, in a brothel where I worked. The Cross – Kings Cross – is Sydney’s notorious red light district. It’s been cleaned up considerably since I walked its pavements and ate in its dingy restaurants. It’s still a tourist attraction, but maybe for different reasons now. In my day, there were streetwalkers every few metres, interspersed with junkies, strippers, and organised crime bosses. It’s where I witnessed an Aboriginal man, high off his head, being brutally manhandled into a paddy wagon, and when I say manhandled I mean beaten across the head with a baton and thrown – literally thrown into the van. It’s where I witnessed a woman being slashed and stabbed by whom I assumed was her pimp in an alley by the brothel where I worked. It’s where I walked passed a teenager dying from an overdose in the gutter. I saw all this, and I kept walking. I told no one. I pretended it wasn’t happening. I was too afraid. I kept walking back to the brothel where I let men pound me for $110 an hour so I could forget. The Cross is where I lost myself.

Being back here is like paying penance. Every time I come to Sydney I have a headache. It feels like a tight band around my head, just behind my eyes. My mental health deteriorates more the longer I’m here. I thought that touring here, doing something I loved here would create new, better memories. I’m all for facing my demons head on, but I think this is one dark part of my life that I can never make up for.

Sydney broke me. I realise that now. I forget the effect it had on my life until I’m back here. I was walking up Darlinghurst Rd with my producer and a few cast mates the other day, hanging up posters for our show because our theatre is just down the road in Woolloomooloo. We turned left onto Bayswater Rd and I couldn’t keep going. I couldn’t walk past a particular street. It was an odd sensation, feeling trapped in my shoes. It’s like being stuck in tar. I started to cry, the tears prickling in the corners of my eyes as the band around my head tightened. My wife asked me what it was that hurt me so. I couldn’t tell her. That fear was back, laced with a sprinkling of shame. This is the place where I learned not to care. This is the place where I hardened my heart and my soul. This is the place where I fell apart, bits of me scattering everywhere, and I still can’t put the pieces back together again.

Never before has my mental illness affected my ability to perform, but tonight it did. My head was scattered, my thoughts disappearing into black holes. Being here a week, trying to keep it together, dealing with missing my cats and my home and my ordinary love-filled life finally dealt its blow and I gave one of the worst performances of my career. I came offstage and burst into tears, so embarrassed, so mortified that I couldn’t get my shit together enough to actually do my job and act well. This place is threatening to tear me apart again. Thankfully, my cast and my producer are a tight knit group of understanding and compassionate people. They deserve a better me than the one they’re getting.

I am tired. I am beaten. The weight of my experiences and decisions is heavy on my heart.

I am trying not to be broken.

Advertisements

Pain For Art

Around September of last year, one of my closest friends was hit by car in Berlin. I got the call early in the morning from his boyfriend, the words crashing into my head and bouncing around inside my skull.

“What? Oh my God, what? Are you okay?” It was all I could say, over and over again, my incredulity belying my shock. This doesn’t happen. This stuff happens to other people, not to my friends. I start to cry. My friend – the boyfriend – starts to cry. The voice in my head utters one word:

“Nope.”

That’s the thing about being a close friend but not the best friend. I couldn’t do anything except ineffectually offer consoling words and lots of ‘I love yous’ to my friend’s family and partner, and sit and wait to find out if he was going to come through the coma, then the brain injury, then the rehab, then the trip back home. Other friends wanted to send care packages full of cards, letters and photos; I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t sound trite and disingenuous, when all I wanted to say was “don’t die, okay?”

He didn’t die, and he has recovered like a boss, the only signifiers of his accident being the corrective glasses he has to wear (because one of his eyes was knocked out of place by the car) and two scars on the back of his head. He jokes about his accident all the time. It tickles me that he got hit by a car whilst very intoxicated, running across a Berlin road to reach an after-hours bakery. He almost died for cake. My kind of guy. He can still walk, talk, be funny, and most importantly, he can still write.

I’m rehearsing one of his plays at the moment, and, as always with his work, there’s something in my character which challenges the fuck out of me. The particular challenge of this play I’ll discuss later, but there’s an important piece of information about “Carol” that really didn’t hit me with any sense of brevity until last night: she suffers a brain injury. My friend, who’s directing, gave me a note about playing a particular scene in which Carol is on her journey of recovery, and he said dryly, “as someone who has a brain injury …” I must admit I stopped listening after that because the actuality of his situation smacked me in the face with such force that my mind went blank. And I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed for being a wanky actor trying to find the authenticity of this woman’s situation, congratulating myself on being such an intuitive and sagacious artiste that I could just pluck her emotions out of thin air, and here was someone I loved who experienced this thing sitting in front of me, all matter of fact and candid and non emotive and I had no idea how he got through it all, much less how I was supposed to convey that on stage. I was awestruck, and sad, and grateful all at the same time. I was humbled. Not only did my friend survive this incredible thing, he humbled me with it – no mean feat, let me tell you.

As an actor, my job is to reconstruct, represent, recreate, interpret and narrate a story; a journey, if you will, that one character goes through. This character is a fabrication, even if it’s based on an actual person, therefore one has license to embellish, colour and adorn that character’s personality. My goal with every character is to try to find the human in the fabrication. I try to make the character relatable, if not likeable (because sometimes I play really unlikeable personas), and I’m good at it. I know that. My wife tells me I’m a little conceited about it, and she’s right, but that’s only because it’s the one thing in my life that I’m 100% certain about. I know I can do this, whereas with everything else I only have a vague, hopeful surety that I’m kind of getting it right at least 50% of the time.

Having said that, even in the face of my own arrogance, I am humbled and blessed and thankful that my friend trusted me enough to give me the assignment of representing a small part of his story. He didn’t write this character based on himself, the play is based on several other true stories, but as fate, or divine will, or just a happy accident would have it, here is another opportunity for me to delve further into the mires of the human psyche and therefore learn more about myself.

So thanks, friend, for getting hit by a car so I can know myself better.

Christ, I’m such a wanker sometimes.

My friend has a blog. It’s very good. Check it out.

https://eisforestranged.wordpress.com

Fat Chance

Once every six or seven years, I get fat. It’s not a planned thing, like I don’t sit down and work out a mind map for adding junk to my trunk, it just seems to happen. Which isn’t to say I get skinny in those intervening years, I just fluctuate from nicely slim to nicely curvy and back and forth until my body just says, “Bitch, I’ma get you all chunked up” and next thing you know I can’t fit into my jeans.

My weight’s always been a problem. I come from a family of big women on both sides, and it’s a battle I’ve fought since I hit puberty. I have been underweight too, in my early to mid 20s, so much so, I’m pretty sure my dad thought I was a junkie. I wasn’t, but I must admit, I loved being thin. I looked revolting naked, but man, I looked hot in clothes! Clothes I’d always wanted to wear but was too afraid to because of my fat bits. I was lean and limber and for a few years I actually liked what I saw in the mirror, and therefore I liked myself.

Isn’t that an awful thing to recognise about oneself? This confession that ‘I was happy when I was thin’ fills me with dismay. The years I have spent pondering the mysteries of the Universe, searching for answers to the unasked questions, and seeking enlightenment all collapse in the face of the absolute banality of that one statement:

‘I was happy when I was thin.’

How revolting.

I’m performing in a musical revue next week. This will be the first time I have sung musical theatre numbers since I was 16. It’s not a huge deal, but I’m looking forward to it. In the process of choosing a costume, I tried on a few of my slinky black dresses last night, only to find that most of them didn’t quite fit, especially over the boobage area. I struggled a bit with a sense of consternation over this fact, but given that I had had a kinesiology session earlier in the day, I was feeling quite buoyant and unwilling to give in to the fat-hating gremlin that lives in my head and whispers nasty things in my ear. Tonight, however … Well, tonight it has hit me smack in the face that yes, I am fat again. Not the “fat” where the body is a bit flabby but with the help of some carefully chosen layers and maybe some Spanx pants one can hide it and still look sleek, oh no no no. This is the “fat” where the body has actually changed shape and no amount of clever dressing or suck-me-in-knicker-wearing is going to hide the bountiful 15 kilos that have found their way onto my tall and already curvy frame.

The realisation of this made me cry. I cried because I have to get up on that stage next week and sing some quite difficult songs to an audience of my peers and I feel revolting. Revolting, repugnant, repulsive and rotund.

And I’m really, really pissed off that I feel that way. I should not feel worthless and ugly and self-conscious about my abilities as a performer because of the way I look at the moment, but I do and it angers me. I could launch into a massive diatribe about the media and its role in perpetuating the ridiculous thin ideal that gets shoved down our throats day in, day out; I could have a go at the industry I choose to work in and the pressures it puts on all of us actors to conform to a physical archetype; I could rant and rave against the injustices of a society that’s into fat-shaming and thin-worship, but you know what? This is the world we live in. This is how it is, and to be honest, I think I’ve realised I’m just a little too lazy, too old and too tired to get off my arse and commit the time and energy to achieving the kind of body that would fit in to that paradigm. Instead, I just feel shit about myself, and cry, and emotionally flagellate myself for being so crap at being thin, and life, and stuff.

It’s hard. It only gets harder the older I get. I don’t have any answers for this. Yes, I could go to the gym five days a week and cut out sugar for life, but I’d be miserable. I do need to exercise more, but since my surgery earlier this year my body has taken its time to be ready to go back to my old routine. Right now, I feel so overwhelmed with the pain of the hair shirt I’m wearing that the thought of all the things I’d have to do to kick start any weight loss is just making me feel worse.

Fuck this life sometimes. Honestly, fuck it. It’s difficult, and it hurts, and there’s no end to it. It’s at these times that the challenges must be met, however.

Spanxtacular

Spanxtacular

This is the time to maintain vigilance in the face of internal adversity.

I’m still going to sing next week, even if I do feel like I’ll be heifering it across the stage. The show must go on, and life must go on. The lesson herein, kiddies, is that sometimes one just has to adjust to the circumstances that arise for no other reason than ‘the show must go on’.

Now excuse me while I stuff myself into my Spanx. I’ve got some songs to sing.

Higher Learning

In 1997, two years after leaving high school and a year after migrating to Australia, I entered university to study performing arts. I did my research before applying for universities, auditioning for a few courses that sort of offered what I was looking for, but my first preference was Monash University’s Bachelor of Performing Arts. It was, at that time (and still is, I believe), the only university course specialising in theatre and performance. I wasn’t interested in going to uni to get any degree, I wanted to study theatre. That’s it.

In 1998, I got sick in the head so I deferred for a year. In 1999, I completed my second year of uni. In the year 2000, I got sick again, both in the head and in the cervix (I had early stage cancer). I deferred indefinitely.

Early in 2007, having spent all that time doing things other than acting, I went to see Peter Fitzpatrick who was the head of the theatre department at the time. He still remembered me six years later, calling me by name as I entered his office. I told him I wanted to come back to school. He said he’d be delighted to have me. In mid 2008, I finally completed my degree and went on to achieve First Class Honours in 2009, completing the Graduate Ensemble honours year, where I trained under Peter Oyston.

I have been working steadily as an actor since then, often with people I met through that course. I am a member of two companies – Before Shot and Quiet Little Fox – both of which with people I met through that course. My life has completely changed in that I left an industry I hated and entered into a vocation that has my heart, soul and intellect utterly committed to it. I achieved that mainly due to that course. Getting my degree pretty much saved my life.

A few days ago, I heard that Monash University may be discontinuing the Bachelor of Performing Arts (known as BPA), with no intake of new students in 2014.

My BPA peeps

My BPA peeps

Now, please remember that this is the only course of its kind in Melbourne. Some universities in Melbourne have three year acting courses, or offer theatre studies as a stream in an Arts degree, but BPA is the only degree that is specifically designed as an all-encompassing theatre and performance degree. Look, the degree has its problems, it’s not perfect. However, I am a big believer in getting whatever you can out of anything you do, and I took some amazing skills and knowledge away with me when I graduated.

Now, I’m not a director. I’m not a playwright, although I’ve written plays. I’m not a stage manager, or a lighting designer, or any of those ultra cool things that I wish I had more knowledge of (I sometimes didn’t pay attention in class because I’m slack) and can therefore do and get paid for. I’m intelligent but not particularly academic. I haven’t worked for big and impressive companies. I’m just an actor and occasional composer, but I’m a very good actor/composer who knows theatre, who understands theatre, who appreciates the craft of theatre and even film (because I studied that too) all thanks to that degree. The BPA is the only reason I went to university, and it was the best thing I could have done to change the course of my life, something that desperately needed to happen.

My Graduate Ensemble peeps

My Graduate Ensemble peeps

There seems to be a lot of focus by politicians (and university board members, let’s face it) on tertiary education that leads to employment, particularly in sectors that are lacking skilled workers. They want to put money towards training that gives money back to them. Hey, that’s great, train up them students, get ’em working, boost our economy, rah rah rah! But honestly, if you want me to either kill myself or turn into a raging alcoholic, drug-fueled misfit, train me in a skill I don’t want to make me work in a job I have no interest in which will eventually make me hate my life. We are not all wired the same way, and I think it’s dangerous to enforce in society a directive in which art is deemed unnecessary, therefore not worthy of finance, support or an education in. We must have artists, just as we must have doctors and nurses and teachers and vets and lawyers and scientists. And how about taxi drivers and postal workers and cleaners and garbage persons and other “non-skilled” professions? I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. In my ever-so-humble opinion, education is not just about making people employable. It’s not even just about making people smarter. It’s about teaching people to use their minds, to discover the world in their own heads to such a point that they’re excited about discovering the world outside their own experiences.

No, my degree did not guarantee me a job. Yes, I’m still working three jobs outside of acting to pay my rent. Yes, it will take me a while to make a living solely from acting, but I am a much more functional member of society with my degree than without it, even if it’s not tailored to an industry that is lacking skilled workers. And I am capable of such great things now that my mind has been expanded through that awesome thing called education.

I will write an email to the vice chancellor at Monash, imploring him to reconsider the decision to cut the BPA. I have no impressive achievements to offer as incentive; my resume is full to bursting, but not particularly remarkable. But I have a resume. I have training. I have a vocation and a desire to make art that will maybe change the world, or maybe just one person. That’s enough, surely.

Delving Into the Dark

I have a confession to make that may seem incongruous given what I do for a living: I don’t particularly enjoy going to the theatre. It’s not that I don’t like the theatre, I do. I like being in it, I love acting, I love creating, I love bump in and rehearsals and homework and learning lines … okay, I don’t really like learning lines, but being in the theatre; being in a show is really the only time that I’m truly happy.

But I don’t like going to see theatre, really. Often. At all. My reasoning is quite domestic, to be honest. When I’m not doing stuff, I’m essentially a lazy person, and getting up out of bed or off the couch to put on clothes and a face, leave the house and go sit on oftentimes uncomfortable chairs for one to three hours is sometimes just too much effort and I can’t be bothered. My other reasons are somewhat cynical; a lot of the theatre I see – made by people I know and those I don’t – I consider to be self-indulgent wank (hey, I’m being reeeeeally honest here), boring, or just another rehashing of stories I’ve heard before. I don’t like watching actors who suck, and I don’t like good actors being used to prove to a director how good he or she thinks she or he is. And this is across the board, folks. This is everything from independent theatre to community theatre to Fringe Festivals to MTC shows to Melbourne’s “Broadway” scene.

But here I am, ranting again, probably sounding like an arsehat who thinks that all theatre is shit unless I’m in it. I’ve seen some good theatre, yes, even excellent theatre, but it’s very rare that I’ve seen theatre that viscerally affects me, and that’s the theatre I like. That’s the theatre that engages me; where I’m not sitting in the audience thinking “I could have acted that better,” or “godsdamn it, when is this gonna end?” but rather, where my snarky little ego is quiet, and I am completely focused on what’s happening on stage.

I saw that kind of theatre last night. It was a show called Columbine, based on the high school massacre back in the late 90s and it was put on at the student theatre of my old university and it was amazing.

The writer/director (or, as he likes to call himself, the Cobbler, as in he just “cobbled together bits and pieces” as verbatim theatre usually requires its cast and crew to do) had been wanting to this show for years, and when given the opportunity to, decided to work with students (my gods, what I would give to have had an opportunity to perform in something like this when I was a younger actor! It would have shaped my understanding of my craft in ways indescribable).

The director (Cobbler), Daniel, is one of my closest friends, so I won’t gush too much about his work, but I will say this: as an artist he has never shied away from telling the difficult stories; the confronting and uncomfortable truths about human behaviour. He has been criticised, at times severely, for the subject choices of his plays in the past because they were so stark and desolate and honest about really horrific things, namely child murder, cannibalism and now, school shootings.

I have a deep fascination with the darkness of human psychology that simultaneously thrills and repels me. I want to understand what makes these people commit these acts, because I can’t imagine how anyone who is not a sociopath or a psychopath could want to murder other people. How could “ordinary” people – teenagers! – perpetrate such atrocious acts and not conceive the effect of these actions upon their own souls and on those around them.

So does my friend Daniel. He created a piece of theatre that very respectfully but firmly explored the events that led up to and took place at Columbine High School, and I came out of the theatre affected.

Affected. Not disturbed, not distressed, not horrified. Affected. Affected in a way that I can’t even really put into words. It was brave, quite simply. The student actors were courageous and engaged and committed and displayed the all attributes I look for in an actor. They were not all the best actors, granted, but I didn’t care. I was right there with every single one of them on that stage, and I felt everything they did. The show was not perfect either. It was slightly over-long and a touch clunky in some areas (issues Daniel is aware of and will fix for the remount), but again, I didn’t care. I was taken into this world and I came out of it a little altered.

That’s the theatre I want to see. Not all the time ’cause I likes to have me a good laugh at the theatre sometimes, but this is the stuff that excites me, that reminds me why I love theatre acting so much, and how it is such an immediate and powerful medium for presenting the thorny issues and raising the questions that need to be raised.

Well done, Daniel. Well done to all my friends who are brave enough to scrutinise and question and probe through this amazing instrument called theatre. I approve.

Parlour Tricks

So, I think it’s about time to talk about prostitution.

Why? Well, I very recently was cast in a small role for a television show on ABC, and guess what I was cast as? Yep, that’s right, a prostitute. A protesting prostitute to be exact. When I told my father he joked, “You’re certainly not being typecast, are you?” Considering this is the third role as a prostitute I’ve done, I’m beginning to think I am. Also, an actor friend of mine has just been cast as a prostitute in a play, and as my friends are wont to do she wanted to have a chat about my experiences. It’s something I’m more than happy to do if it informs someone’s art.

But taking into consideration that I tend to use art as a basis for these posts, I guess it’s time to tell that particular story. But first, let me give you a little background.

Very young me

Very young me

I grew up in a South Auckland suburb called Manurewa, which is a low socio-economic area, in a single parent family. I was sexually molested at the age of 5 by a teenage girl who was babysitting me while my mum was at work, and again at 6 by a male boarder at my father’s house when he and his partner were out. I had a rough childhood; my parents both made mistakes while I was growing up that I won’t go into simply because I’ve come to terms with it, and quite frankly, they’re human and are allowed to make mistakes. I have a very good relationship with both of them now and through our honesty with each other, we’ve managed to get passed the past.

I was a sad kid, but a fairly good one. I liked Barbie and cats. I knew I wanted to perform for a job from a very young age. I was intelligent, I did well at school, I didn’t go to parties or get drunk or make a dick of myself. Although I was an emotionally screwed up teenager I did theatre instead of drugs, and had music lessons in lieu of sex. I made a few cock ups here and there, but in the scheme of things, I was an okay child.

As soon as I left school I moved out of home. Things were not great at home, and I was desperate to get out and start the journey towards an acting career. I got a job at a legal firm as a legal secretary to save money to move to Australia, and I lived by myself in a 2 bedroom unit. One week, I couldn’t afford my rent and my car repayments (not surprisingly, considering I was only earning $200 a week), and so I made a decision that changed the course of my life. I became a sex worker.

I struggled with it, hated it even, but I felt I had very little choice. I was working full time and still not earning enough, there was no way I was going to move home, and I didn’t want to get a loan and have more money to pay back. I was earning a lot of money very quickly through prostitution, and suddenly it became the only way I could live. Strangely enough, I felt I belonged somewhere for the first time in my life (other than in the theatre). We were all the same, us working girls. No matter where we came from we all fucked for money, which put us on a level playing field. Coming from a poor family didn’t matter, having divorced parents didn’t matter, being a little bit fat didn’t matter, we were all prostitutes. That can be very empowering.

But still, I hear you ask, why didn’t you get out if you hated it so much? Well, when I find that out I’ll tell you. I had my theories: I was psychologically damaged by the abuse and was trying to get back my power through selling sex instead of having it taken from me; I was punishing myself; I was fulfilling some karmic drama from a previous life; I was avoiding following my dream because I might fail at it – the list goes on and on and on. Quite simply, on a practical level, I needed the money. Money equalled security and independence. If I had my own lucre I wouldn’t need to rely on anyone else. Being financially dependent on someone else meant that they had power over me, by my reasoning, and I wasn’t going to be owned by anyone.

On with the story. (NB “Work” means sex work as opposed to having a “job”.) I moved to Australia just before I turned 19 and auditioned for VCA, failing to get a place. I went back to work for a few months until I got a full time job and a boyfriend. The boyfriend and I broke up 9 months later and the job contract ended, so I went back to work. The boyfriend told my father I was working, so I stopped, went to a doctor and was diagnosed with depression. A couple of suicide attempts later, I started my performing arts degree, met my fiancé and did okay for a year or two.

Then I had a major psychotic break and went insane for a little while. I fucked up. Really fucked up, and learned the ultimate lesson of self-responsibility. I did something really quite unforgivable to myself that hurt the people closest to me and although I was mentally unhinged at the time (I ended up being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and chronic depression), I couldn’t forgive myself. I worked extraordinarily hard to get over that incident and make amends for what I had done. It was probably the worst time of my life, but also the best in terms of what it taught me. It was then that I vowed to be as honest as I possibly could at all times about everything, as it was the only way to earn back the trust of those I had aggrieved.

Model2

During my working years

Try as we might, however, the fiancé and I couldn’t get past that incident. We tried, really tried because we loved each other, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I met the woman who was to become my girlfriend and one of the greatest loves of my life, the fiancé and I split up, and soon after the girlfriend (also an ex-hooker) and I went back to work. Although I was to jump the desk and become a manager (and jump it again occasionally to make some extra money), I stayed in the industry for another six years. I gave up all thoughts of acting, the band that the ex-fiancé and I had started three years before fell apart, and my life became all about sex work. I was a manager, an escort, a driver for a male escort company, a phone bitch for an escort service, I even cleaned a brothel while I was managing. I did just about every job there is to do in that industry, and I was pretty good at all of them. I worked in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, went on holiday to Bali, paid off $30,000 worth of debt, and at times had a pretty fabulous time with some of the friends I made in that industry. The girlfriend and I split up halfway through that time, and I went a little crazy again, had a minor amphetamine habit, and dated a criminal (who was actually one of the kindest, sweetest men I’ve ever been with).

And then, one day, just before my 29th birthday, I couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t be in that environment anymore. The clincher was when I was introduced to someone out in the “real” world and I had to take a moment to think of what name to give them. I had lost myself. I had become so entrenched in that cloistered, isolating industry that I no longer knew who I was anymore. Hardened, dangerous criminals knew my real name, hookers would call me at home asking to “borrow” money for drugs, I was asked to lie in court for one of my bosses (if I didn’t do it I believe I would have “disappeared”. Luckily, the charges were dropped). So I left.

And promptly got sick. I spent a horrible year trying to find myself again. I got horrendously fat, smoked way too much dope, and rarely left the house. I spent my 29th birthday with my boss at the boutique hotel that I cleaned on the weekends. I had no one. I lived by myself, my father lived overseas, my industry friends had gone, I wasn’t dating anyone; I was completely and utterly alone.

But then I turned 30 and everything changed. I moved back in with my dad in the house he had just bought, I went back to Uni to finish my degree, and I got my first “real” world job in years. I found who I was in the years that followed. I decided I wanted to go back and do what I wanted to do when I was a kid: act. So I entered into my year of intensive training as part of my honours degree and suddenly found that being at Uni full time didn’t leave a lot of time for work. So, against my better judgment, I went back into the industry. I spent nine months working as a manager at a brothel that was owned by an acquaintance of my father’s, and I loathed it. I earned very good money and lived quite well while I finished my training, but it did some damage to my newly forged mental state. And here’s where my life was saved, so to speak. I had often written about the industry, and had the first 30 pages of a script that I wanted to develop. My housemate at the time, Fleur sat me down one day and asked me questions. She then came back to me a few days later and said, “let’s do a play about sex work.” It turned into Skinhouse, which we performed at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and at La Mama in Melbourne to sold out audiences in 2011. It was one of the most cathartic, empowering, enlivening experiences I have ever had. The support I received from the general public and the theatre industry was overwhelming. The process of putting on the play was difficult emotionally, and Fleur and I both struggled with the implications of delving into this period of my life night after night. But it educated people. It surprised them, enlightened them and made them cry. I believe it also humanised prostitutes for those who saw it.

I have been criticised in the past by well-meaning friends for being so open about my past, because it leaves me vulnerable to attack. And yeah, I have been attacked. A Catholic housemate when I was living in Auckland tried to throw me out of the house when she discovered I was a sex worker. She didn’t succeed and eventually came around and we were friends again, but I was treated like a criminal for a while there. My ex-fiancé hated me talking about it in public because of the way people might respond to him. A friend (who is no longer a friend) insisted on calling me a whore because she said I had to get over my abhorrence for the word (she also thought she had a right to tell me that she was spiritually superior to me because I had worked). My most recent ex’s mother told her son before she even met me that he was just another one of my customers, which is actually a really polite way of calling me a whore (this was a direct result of him stupidly telling his parents that I was an ex-hooker, something I should have raked him over the coals for but didn’t because I gave him concessions for his youth and general naïveté about these things). She went on to say a couple of years later that I was sick and broken, so no matter what I did the woman simply didn’t think I was good enough for her son, based purely, I believe, on the fact that I used to be a prostitute.

Skinhouse Photography by Sarah Walker

Skinhouse
Photography by Sarah Walker

I was never a whore. A whore, to my reckoning, is someone who can be bought with anything, be it money or drugs. A whore is someone who has no limits to what they will do for that payment, and who will screw over any and everyone for their own gain. Not all prostitutes are whores, and I actually find “whore” to be a hateful word. I was never a whore. I kept my boundaries and my integrity throughout my entire career. I didn’t work to support a drug habit, I didn’t cheat, lie or steal, and I proved time and again to the people that mattered that I could be trusted. I never worked the streets and I always used protection. That means little to those outside the industry, but it means everything to me.

Let me tell you some of the things that happened to me while I was working: I was beaten up by a client for refusing to allow him to penetrate me anally; I was raped by another client with a dirty long-neck beer bottle on a roll of carpet; I was held up against a wall by a client who bit me on the cheek because he didn’t want me to leave; I was anally raped by another client with the justification that he had just paid me $500 and was “entitled” to do whatever he wanted to me (and I was subsequently told by the madam of the escort service/brothel I worked for to have a bath, have a drink and come back to work). I don’t tell you these things for you to feel sorry for me. I tell you because this is what a lot of sex workers have to contend with on the job, and there’s not a hell of a lot of readily available support for working girls who have been abused. There’s always the risk of violence in that job. It’s no wonder that there is rampant drug use, crime, addiction and general bad behaviour in that industry. Sex workers are vilified, judged, discriminated against, and abused by the ignorant majority of the public for what they do. Oftentimes, sex workers do not seek help because there is a sense of shame – whether acknowledged or not – for “putting themselves at risk” in the first place. Even if a worker never experiences violence, the mere physical act of doing the job is stressful and potentially psychologically damaging.

So why do I talk about it? Why not do what other ex working girls I know have done and pretend it never happened? Well, Oscar Wilde once wrote, “To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.” Mind you, he also wrote, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” Luckily I’m funny. All hilarity aside, I’m open about it because I’m an open person. Being honest about that time ensures that no one else can throw it in my face later on down the track. It was also such a large part of my life for so long that it didn’t so much define me as a person, but gave me the opportunity to know myself. I learned of my own strength, tenacity, and ability to overcome anything life throws at me. I also learned that I am human, that I make mistakes, and that I am actually quite fragile at times. I struggled for a long time to get over being a prostitute. I was lucky in that I have incredible parents who accepted me whatever I did. They didn’t like that I worked (what parent would, really?) but they never told me I was a bad person for it, and they were there to pick up the pieces with me. I remember my father coming into the living room as I was sobbing over the movie Leaving Las Vegas. He looked at me long and hard and asked me when I was going to forgive myself.

When indeed?

I’m working on it still, to tell the truth. I am an advocate for the sex industry, in that I believe it is necessary in this society, and I believe there would be less of the aforementioned incidences of addiction and abuse if there was on-hand support for workers, equally for those who wish to continue in the industry and for those who wish to leave it. I believe in legislation of the sex industry, but for the purposes of providing protection for the worker, not for ensuring revenue for the government. I will be very glad if I never have to step one foot inside a brothel again, but never again will I be ashamed of having spent a great deal of my adult life inside one (or seven, as the case may be).

I know who I am now. I am Kristina, not Kate, Gia, Georgia, Lauren, Alison or any of the other names I’ve used. I’ve had this life, and if I died tomorrow I would be very happy with the life I’ve lived. It is as it is, and I am who I am because of it; in spite of it even.

So, there it is.

This is not a “wah wah, poor me” post, just an observation on life and things. I’ve just had new headshots taken because of new hair, and I’m going through them looking at my face and asking “When did I get so old?” It’s not that I’m old, not at all, but I don’t feel the way my face looks. There are crinkles and lines and crepe-iness that I don’t feel old enough to have. I am blessed with very good skin, and I look after it fairly well, but there’s no stopping the ageing process. There’s no reversing of gravity, preventing of folds or ceasing of smiling, frowning, laughing, grimacing – all the things that have an effect on the face. And other than drastic surgery, there’s no changing what already exists on the face. That’s a very sobering thought.

We – I – live in a society that reveres youth. Beauty goes hand in hand with youth, and although I’ve never considered myself to be conventionally beautiful, I’ve felt that I’ve grown more attractive the older I’ve gotten due to my acceptance of self, and the fact that I behave like a child 80% of the time. Older certainly doesn’t equal ugly as far as I’m concerned, but it interests me to look at photos of myself, or to look in the mirror and have that slight sense of panic that my face isn’t smooth plains of creamy unblemished goodness, and that somehow that diminishes my worth (particularly in the acting industry), or means that I’ve failed as a woman.

861220_10151482661175406_402694557_o

Heather
Acidtongue and Dollface
Photography by Alexandra Dye

How ridiculous! How stupidly, profoundly, contemptibly ridiculous. I resent being conditioned to feel like that. I resent buying into that bullshit as if it’s a true measure of who I am as a human being. I stand up in the face of that ludicrous societal standard of beauty and acceptability and I laugh! I love my wrinkles (that I slather cream on every night to reduce)! I love my tuck-shop-lady arms (that I do repetitive, pointless exercise to try to get rid of) ! I love my grey hairs (that I cover up with artificial colour)!

Oh gods, I’m such a hypocrite. Because I can say all that, and rant and rave to the four winds, but I will guarantee you within the next 24 hours I will be in front of the mirror examining my pores and inwardly sobbing over my rotund abdomen and judging myself because I don’t fit the media/society-dictated norm. I don’t even find that norm particularly attractive, but I want to fit it.

Humans are stupid sometimes.

Getting Older